What is the Ikigai Concept and Can it Bring You Purpose?

Tell me… have you heard of the ikigai concept?

Ikigai is a Japanese word to describe a way of being that revolves around purpose. It’s about creating an overall approach to life that is inherently meaningful and fulfilling. In many interpretations, ikigai is understood as one’s reason for getting up in the morning.

Ikigai isn’t a new word or concept, but it has been gaining in popularity, especially since the release of the book, “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life” by Héctor García. The book primarily looks at ikigai as a path to long life by examining the people of Okinawa – one of the famed “blue zones” – and it’s this potential connection to longevity that seems to be fueling its popularity.

So… does ikigai lead to longer life? It’s a nice idea and I hope it does, but for me, the better question is, can ikigai make our lives more enjoyable, however long they may be?

In this article, we’ll explore:


What Are the 4 Components of Ikigai?

Like with so many ancient or traditional concepts, once it comes into the mainstream, there’s a tendency for us to try to streamline the idea. We want bullet points, simple infographics, a quick and easy way to absorb value.

And I get it. We’re all busy and our attention is a prized commodity. However, when we try to boil something down to the basics, we sometimes lose its true meaning. For that reason, I try to only reach for quick, easily digestible bits when it really does make sense.

In western understanding of ikigai, the concept is commonly broken down into 4 components and put into a really nice venn diagram, like this one:

 

This diagram gives a really easy to understand framework, but… it isn’t true ikigai. There’s a great article here that fully explains why, as well as the real origins of that diagram.

That diagram is really about creating purpose in your career. By asking the questions:

  1. What do I love?
  2. What am I good at?
  3. What can I be paid for?
  4. What does the world need?

You can find the overlap of all 4 to determine a career path that will bring you a sense of purpose in your work.

That’s really great and there’s so much value in that… and it isn’t ikigai.

Why isn’t it? Because ikigai is about your whole life, not just your work life. Which brings us to…


Does Your Ikigai Have to be Your Job?

No! Your ikigai – your reason for getting up in the morning – does not have to be something that you get paid for. But, ideally, what you do get paid for will be in alignment with your ikigai.

Here’s the thing: most of us spend massive chunks of our lives at work. Because of this, it matters to your overall enjoyment of life that your job be in alignment with your ikigai. I understand that this is a privileged opinion. Not everyone has the freedom or opportunity to choose a job they enjoy, or to leave a job they hate.

I also believe – and have seen – that just about everything has the potential to spread. If we push for healthier, more empowering workplaces, we create the potential for momentum; for those concepts to spread beyond individual workplaces.

If you don’t feel that your work promotes ikigai, and you have the opportunity to either change your job or change your approach to your job, do it.

So, if your ikigai is not your job, how can your job still be part of it? It’s really about finding or creating ways to put your job in alignment with your life purpose.

Let’s say you’re a parent and your ikigai at this stage of life is your children. You are also in a leadership role at work. A great deal of strengthening your leadership skills revolves around compassion for others, active listening, communication skills, positive influence and understanding how to bring out the best in others. Going through that list, I’m sure you can see how those skills can translate to more conscious parenting!

Let’s say traveling is your ikigai. If the only way your job aligns with your ikigai is that it funds your travels, that may be enough for you, so long as your work environment is healthy and inclusive. If helping others is your ikigai, maybe you can work in an industry that aligns with that, or you can use the skills you develop at work to help others outside of work.

Just as important as finding ways to align with your ikigai is identifying things that really don’t align. Once you identify those things, look for ways to change them or change your approach to them, and get the ball rolling on that.


Can Your Ikigai Change?

Yes! I don’t know about you, but I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. Most people aren’t. And that’s a great thing. Our lives evolve and our inner selves grow and evolve along with them. How wonderful that we can experience so much newness around us and within us as well!

Because you evolve, your ikigai absolutely can and should evolve as well. There’s a great TEDTalk from Dan Buettner on longevity and its relationship to ikigai. In it, he gives the example of a 102 year old woman in Okinawa who said her great-great-great granddaughter was her ikigai. Now, obviously, she hadn’t been a great-great-great grandmother her entire life, which means her ikigai had to have shifted as her life shifted.

Your ikigai is whatever gets you up in the morning right now, at this point in your life’s journey.


Is There an Ikigai Test to Uncover Yours?

No, there really isn’t. There are online tests and quizzes that claim to determine your ikigai, but they’re mostly based on that 4 component model mentioned above, which isn’t true ikigai.

That doesn’t mean there’s no value in those tests. As I mentioned, that model is about helping you find a career path that is meaningful to you and there’s so much value in that. It can even be part of determining your ikigai, or designing a life that is in alignment with yours. So, if you want to take any of those tests, go for it.

As for determining your ikigai, it’s one of the most personal and unique elements of life, so there can’t be one quiz or quick test to find yours. What will help you determine yours is doing the inner work to connect with your most authentic self. Getting clarity into the beliefs and values that are truly yours, the pursuits that truly fuel you, and the innate joys of your own heart will bring you to your ikigai.

Here are 5 resources and exercises to help you build clarity towards uncovering your ikigai AND creating a life in alignment with your ikigai, in this moment:

  1. 6 Steps to Unleash Your Inner Leader (free ebook)
  2. How to Develop Your Inner Leader
  3. The True Meaning of Ikigai
  4. How to Practice Radical Self-Acceptance
  5. The Path Made Clear: Discovering Your Life’s Direction and Purpose (book by Oprah Winfrey)

You’ll notice that – with the exception of one – none of these resources is directly about ikigai. Instead, they’re about strengthening your connection with your true self. That’s where you’ll discover your ikigai.


What are some ikigai examples?

I mentioned a few ikigai examples above, but here are a few more examples to broaden your perspective on just how broad or specific your ikigai can be. It really is such a personal thing, so there is no right or wrong. It’s about YOU.

  • Connecting with nature.
  • Helping people who are food insecure in your community.
  • Working on your first novel.
  • Designing and making jewelry.
  • Developing new vaccines.
  • Your children, grandchildren or nieces and nephews.
  • Helping your elderly neighbor.
  • Volunteering at an animal shelter.
  • Helping people with their financial planning.
  • Trying new recipes and creating your own.
  • Strength training and sharing your workout tips.
  • Experiencing new things.

See? Your ikigai can be anything! What matters is that it gives you purpose, meaning and a reason to get up in the morning that actually fuels you. If you really don’t know what yours is, but you want to find out, your ikigai for right now can be your personal journey to discover it!


You deserve to have purpose in your life, and you are the only one who can give that to yourself. If you would like guidance in developing the inner clarity and connection to uncover your ikigai and create a life of fulfillment, I invite you to connect with me.